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The Future Is Fresh – Lake Erie Farms Sow and Tell

The Future Is Fresh

It has been an unusual summer for us in Southern Ontario, that’s for certain. The rapid changes and unexpected weather patterns kept all of us on our toes!

But the last few days have noticeably grown shorter, the leaves are finally turning, and the wind is cool. This past week has been one of the final weekx for field greens, and it’s a busy time for menu changes, as we are now all looking towards greenhouse greens to see us through the winter months.

One of our longstanding greenhouse growers is Lake Erie Farms based in Norfolk County, and that’s why we’ve chosen to feature them for this month’s Sow and Tell!

What’s on sale?

localfood, ontario, ontag, agriculture, lakeerie, 100kmfoods

Both their Salanova and Boston Lettuce blends are on sale for all deliveries next week, from October 24th to the 27th. These blends, if you haven’t tried them, are unbelievably tender, juicy, fresh and a little sweet. As Lake Erie says themselves, “ Salanova® will outperform baby spinach, baby arugula and artisan lettuce in taste, mass-volume, loft and shelf life.”

They work amazingly well in salads, sandwiches, and as lettuce wraps (you may have had their Boston lettuce as part of the Bo Ssäm at Momofuku!). They are packaged as vibrant root balls, which ensures absolute peak freshness and a good storage life.

History of Lake Erie Farms

Lake Erie Farms, like many of those that we work with, is a third generation family owned operation. The Ashbaugh family began farming in the late 1920s, and in those days they primarily grew tobacco and owned a series of farms across the region. In time, much like the Gervais family at Barrie Hill Farms, they decided to phase out of the tobacco business and diversify their operations.

localfood, ontag, farm, fields, 100kmfoods, greenhouse

In 2002, they established their first greenhouse operation and began growing cucumbers. In 2008, they sold off their final tobacco crop. Over the years, they have expanded cucumber production and began growing lettuces. Their CEO, Trish Fournier, began with Lake Erie in January 1999, and has been the CEO of the company since 2006.

Challenges and Motivations of Local Food in Ontario

localfood, ontag, greenhouse, agriculture, greens, salad, sustainability

I spoke to Trish over the phone about Lake Erie and her role within the operation, and we discussed some of the challenges and motivations to growing local in Ontario. Trish, like many of our other growers, feels their biggest challenge is competing with imports, especially when it’s field products from Mexico. Pressures come from all sides for Ontario greenhouse operations – be it higher labour costs, rising hydro and energy rates, or packaging costs.

Trish and the team at Lake Erie work very hard to innovate and compete with imports. They prioritize energy efficiency, and have upgraded of their greenhouses with LED lights and have purchased generators to take one greenhouse off-grid. They recycle their water and carbon dioxide gets cycled back in to be fed to their plants. They are currently undergoing another energy audit to determine more ways to keep their operation as efficient as possible!

Despite the challenges they face, Trish is very passionate about local food and local food production. As she said herself, local food is fresher and harvested at peak for optimal flavour and reduces enormous amounts of pollution from transportation. She loves that they are based in Norfolk County, which is known as one of the produce hubs in Ontario. She highlighted how excellent it is that local restaurants purchase from them creating more jobs for residents, who in turn, reinvest their dollars back into the community.

man, greenhouse, worker

Why is 100km Foods a great fit?

Trish believes that 100km Foods is an excellent fit as their distributor in Toronto and the GTA. As she pointed out, on either end of the chain both producers and restaurants have an interest in selling and purchasing greater amounts of local food. The most challenging piece is the link in the middle – the distribution. Farmers and Chefs alike do not always have the time or resources to coordinate sales, especially on the scale needed to build a local food economy. To Trish, that has a province wide impact because we then rely on bringing in more imports to meet food demands. Distribution may not be as glamourous as growing food or showcasing it in restaurants, but it’s absolutely a crucial piece of the puzzle!

So as you’re planning and sourcing for your menu changes, take advantage of the sale on Lake Erie Salanova and Boston lettuce this week and test them out! You will not be disappointed. The promotion runs from October 24th to October 27th!

Thank you so much to Trish for providing information and the photos used in this blog post!

By: Genrys Goodchild